December 11, 2015

Puerto Rico Archbishop Calls for Negotiated Settlement to Island Debt Crisis

San Juan's Archbishop, Roberto González Nieves, called on Puerto Rico's government and debt holders to negotiate a "comprehensive" solution to the island's debt crisis in a United Nations speech this past Tuesday. The Archbishop asked any so-called "vulture" funds who hold the US territory's debt, to "stop lobbying Congress" and "...join other creditors of help broker a solution" to Puerto Rico's fiscal crisis. The Governor calls the debt "unpayable," as Puerto Rico faces another billion dollar payment on the first of January.

"I don’t come to this table as an expert or even as a creditor, I come to this conversation out of deep concern for my people who are suffering," stated the Archbishop in his speech. The Archdiocese is among many of the territory's religious institutions that also owns Puerto Rico's bonds. "‎The debt is unpayable and no matter what the government of Puerto Rico or certain creditors might say there is a very real humanitarian crisis."

The speech came at an event organized by the UN Conference of Trade and Development on the impact of so-called "vulture funds," firms that buy a government's debt cheaply and then demand full repayment.

Archbishop González tied his remarks to the Catholic Church's "Jubilee Year of Mercy" which also began on Tuesday in a Vatican ceremony. Calling Puerto Rico's financial crisis a "humanitarian crisis," the Archbishop called for the US Government to intervene and for a negotiated settlement to the crisis.

"The Archbishop issued a powerful call for everyone to come to the table and work together to solve this crisis," said Eric LeCompte, executive director of the religious debt relief coalition Jubilee USA. LeCompte consults Puerto Rico's religious leaders on solving the crisis and he spoke at the event alongside the Archbishop.‎ "On an island of 3.5 million people, nearly 1 out of 2 people lives in poverty."

Archbishop Gonzalez is part of a coalition of religious leaders in Puerto Rico that organized in August to call for a comprehensive solution to the island's debt crisis. In late September, LeCompte, the Archbishop and the coalition's leader, Reverend Heriberto Martinez Rivera, General Secretary of the Puerto Rico Bible Society, met with the White House Chief of Staff and Congressional leadership to urge their intervention in the crisis.

Read a timeline of Puerto Rico's debt crisis.

Read the Archbishop's speech: “Solving Puerto Rico's Financial and Humanitarian Crisis: All Are Welcome to the Table"

Read Eric LeCompte's speech: “Stopping Behavior that Preys on the Poor‎: Building an Economy that Serves, Protects and Promotes Participation of Most Vulnerable”

Read more about the United Nations "vulture fund" event.

Read more about Puerto Rico's religious leaders' response to the island's debt crisis.

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